With a career spanning over 40 years, Bill Bourne is one of Canada’s most revered blues artists, transcending genre barriers and pushing the limits of his creativity.
The internationally recognized artist is bringing his immense talent to Salmon Arm in early April.
Obsessed with country blues, and musically kicked forward by the Woodstock generation, Bourne began gigging professionally in 1975, running into the standard problem, – facing pressure to play the cover circuit.
In the early days Bourne played a blend of folk, blues, bluegrass, roots, contemporary and original songs. Artists such as Jesse Winchester, Bob Dylan, Jerry Jeff Walker, Mississippi John Hurt and Gordon Lightfoot added Bill Bourne songs to their repertoire.
His decision to stay true to his original intentions, led to a few dismissals early in his career but also meant that he’s never looked on music as drudgery.
“When you get onstage you have to entertain, people want to see an artist playing music and you have to pay attention to the job. You have to deliver,” he says. “The longer I’ve played, the more I’ve learned that it’s a journey, and now I understand the energy of music. When you get that thing flying, you can have a lot of fun.”
Since the release of his first album by Radio Canada International in 1982, Bourne has toured the world as a solo performer and with such internationally acclaimed acts as Tannahill Weavers, Bourne &MacLeod, Tri–Continental, Eivor Palsdottir, Lester Quitzau, Madagascar Slim and Bop Ensemble.
With three Juno awards and 16 albums to his credit, a brief journey of the Bill Bourne discography must include Dance and Celebrate that garnered his first Juno with piper Alan McLeod. A highlight from his library is of one of Bourne’s finest recordings that was released eight years after he received that first award in 1991. That album was Sally’s Dream and in 1999 it was nominated for a Juno as Best Roots or Traditional Solo Album.
In 2002, Bourne was also staying active with his solo career. The album Voodoo King presented 11 masterful songs full of broken hearts and reflective regrets balanced by a street wise philosophy of acceptance. Phrases such as “an intelligent songwriter, exquisite, raw, inimitable, eerily beautiful, significant and compelling performances, true mystic,” are used to describe Bourne’s music.
Bourne worked with Eivor Palsdottir from the Faroe Islands in 2006. He produced and performed on Eivor’s third solo album Eivor and that recording was awarded two Danish Folk Music Awards that year. In 2007, his album Boon Tang, featured Eivor on a beautiful rendition of Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry. Following this successful partnership, he formed Bop Ensemble with Wyckham Porteous and Jasmine Ohlhauser and their debut recording Between Trains charted on Americana Radio formats across Europe and North America.
In 2010 Bourne recorded Bluesland with his son Patrick Bourne and they were joined by Pa Joe from African Guitar Summit on guitar, Moses Gregg on bass and Miguel Ferrer on drums.
There is also a perspective that is not the world-weariness one could reasonably expect, but rather a deep connection with both a river of song and an energy that is distinctly spiritual. It is a generous, sensual kind of spirit, in the way his fingers stroke the strings on that flat-top guitar, the intimate tremor in his voice and the way the music itself dances.
“Born into a musical family with deep poetic roots, Bourne is a gifted and creative musician. An activist for social justice, this one-man tour de force has been critically acclaimed across the western hemisphere for his recordings and live performances,” says Crouch. “Long highway miles between moments of communion and magic have given his music and his vision a kind of breadth and depth that is rare.”
The road, both paved and metaphysical, runs through all his music. He has seen more of this country and several others than most people ever will. You can hear it in his music, steeped in Cajun, Celtic, World Beat, Flamenco, funk – and a lot of blues.
“Bourne is true to his very soul when writing and performing his music,” Crouch says. “He’s a very gifted musician and lyricist, respects the songwriting craft and has been recognized internationally for his contributions to music.”
Bourne’s most recent recording is Hummingbird released in 2017. This album features the artist’s 1969 Gibson Hummingbird guitar as a storyteller and includes 11 instrumental pieces.
He says the Hummingbird, now 48 years old, showed him doorways to knowledge and learning that are far beyond music. The guitar sounds as good as ever and still plays effortlessly and in tune.
Crouch says he created Acoustic Avenue in 2006 as a musician, with an understanding of other musicians when they are developing their careers. The first artist he worked with was as an agent for Bill Bourne.
Since the Acoustic Avenue series began last June 12, successful shows have taken place.
“The spring series is the second round of music presentations as we try to develop the venue as a prominent live music room in the Shuswap,” he says of The Handmade Shoppe. “It is a listening room and one of the key things is the audience has chosen that when they come, they want to listen regardless of the genre of music. It keeps it special for the audience, the artist and the house.”
Bill Bourne performs in concert on Thursday, April 6 at The Handmade Shoppe. Copies of Hummingbird and some of Bourne’s other albums will be available. The doors open at 6 p.m. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and food from the bistro is available. Tickets are $25 and are available online at acousticavenue.tickit.ca or at Acorn Music. Tickets may also be reserved at The Handmade Shoppe.